General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Less Stress for You & Clients with "Information Map"

By Carolyn Stevens

Family law cases are inherently stressful for both client and attorney. Most of my clients are seeing a lawyer for the first time, getting divorced for the first time, redefining the family dynamic for the first time-unknown territory for them. I don't know about you, but if somebody dropped me in the middle of the wilderness and said, "Don't worry, everything will be fine," I'd still worry. I'd still want a map. I'd want to be informed. So do my clients. The more effectively I reduce the stress of the unknown, the better our relationship.

Of course, I always send copies of documents to the client, but a document is not much comfort if the client doesn't understand its purpose and what all that impressive legal language means. I used to spend considerable time writing brief notes on the transmittal memo to explain the enclosed document and the next step: "For your file: motion for temporary orders. We have 10 business days to answer. I will mail a copy of the draft for your review." I also spent considerable time throughout the case explaining my office procedures, basic court rules, and answering "so what happens next?" questions.

I can save time and still provide information to the client with a client information sheet. I give each new client the sheet and briefly explain what it contains-some information about my office hours, how the client can reach me at other times, how they can save on attorney fees (they always read this one first), etc.

Both of us benefit. For me, it's fewer routine interruptions, e.g., the client either doesn't call to ask when the adverse party has to answer the latest motion, or knows about leaving an after-hours voice mail with the children's Social Security numbers. The client benefits, too, because he or she knows I don't bill for that short voice mail, but I will charge for a "direct" call.

I recently added a "road map" of a typical case, some very general information about the legal process, starting with the petition and response, how to calculate the time allowed to respond, etc. At any time during the case, they have a way to locate the red "you are here" X. I'm now working on a short glossary of terms such as guardian ad litem, standing master.

Carolyn Stevens is a solo attorney (no staff) practicing family law in Missoula, Montana.

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